Sometimes I talk about Led Zeppelin and The Velvet Underground in the way of how a single of their song might account for the entire catalog of a later band. How someone might have heard the song “No Quarter” and 25 years later we have Tool. It’s not exactly true, but it makes a kind of sense to me.
Here we have a novel that feels like it launched a 1000 contemporary careers from Richard Yates to Rachel Kushner to Jennifer Egan to John Updike to Susan Sontag to Renata Adler to Joan Didion and so on and so on.
This is a 1942 novel that feels like it was written at least twenty years later with a wry and seasoned eye looking back on the social scene of the 1930s in Manhattan through the perspective of someone who spent all their youth in it. Instead, it’s written not long after the time it’s lampooning. We start with a young woman talking herself into a divorce in Reno, Nevada, feeling some kind of bad because she doesn’t think that her husband is all that bad of a guy, just wrong for her. But she’s able to convince herself. From there we literally switch gears into a third person narration about various men she meets, various situations we find her and ourselves in. This novel sometimes places her right in the center of action as narrator, and sometimes she’s the keen observer, and sometimes she almost a prop for another character to be keenly observed. The humor is wry and funny and sharp, and it covers a lot of topics in what feels almost like their infancy — contemporary psychological analysis for example.